He spoke through the prophets

Holy Spirit Graphic


March 1, 2010

The Breath of God filled creation with the glory of God's presence. But Adam and Eve shattered the bond of communion by breaking away from God. After that, not only humanity, but also all earthly creation, had a broken, diminished existence.

"Disfigured by sin and death, man remains 'in the image of God,' in the image of the Son, but is deprived of 'the glory of God,' of his 'likeness' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 705).

God could have left this situation untouched. But he didn't. First, through Abraham, then through Moses and the prophets, God promises to create a holy people, a people who are again filled with his glory.

In this time of the promise, the joint mission of the Son and the Spirit remains shrouded, but still active. "God's Spirit prepares for the time of the Messiah. Neither is fully revealed but both are already promised, to be watched for and welcomed at their manifestation" (Catechism, n. 702).

From time to time, God sent his Breath to a special person in Israel to announce his promise. In the time of Moses, Balaam saw the tribes of Israel encamped. "Then the spirit of God came upon him" and he prophesied a star rising out of Jacob in the distant future (Numbers 24).

In the time of the judges, again and again we read of the spirit of the Lord coming upon various individuals - Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson – to perform some mighty work to sustain Israel.

Then God came upon Samuel who was not only a seer of events to come, but primarily an inspired proclaimer of what ought to be done. Samuel was the first of the prophets.

With David, there is change from the sudden inspirations and actions of the judges to the constant possession of the Spirit by one of God's people. When he is anointed as king, "the spirit of God came mightily upon David from that day forward" (1 Samuel 16.13).

When David commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband slain, his great concern is that God would deprive him of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51.11).

But it is with Ezekiel and Isaiah that the Holy Spirit comes into greater focus in the Old Testament. The trauma of the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile provided the setting for their hope-filled visions of a new people and of a Messiah filled with the Spirit.


After denouncing the sins of Israel, the Lord promises to bring the people into a new land. "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36.26-27).

Then Ezekiel relates the prophecy of God bringing life to the valley of dry bones.

"Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. . . . I prophesied as he commanded me and the breath came into them and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude" (37.5, 10).

What a clear and stirring vision of God's people transformed by the Holy Spirit!

In Isaiah, we read a prophecy of the Messiah filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: "The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (11.2).

Later, in the first of Isaiah's servant songs, we hear the Lord proclaim of the Messiah: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations" (42.1).

In the exile, which is apparently the final collapse of God's promises, we hear instead that God is faithful. God's people will be restored to a fullness beyond their greatest yearnings and the Messiah will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament is not yet the time of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit does act and his future presence is announced. The glory of God will once again be seen amidst a redeemed people.